Ahmed Qurei, a former Palestinian Authority prime minister and one of the architects of interim peace deals with Israel, has died at age 85.
A key player in the 1993 Oslo peace accords, Qurei witnessed the rise of the dream of Palestinian statehood that surged during the negotiations. But he also saw those hopes recede, with the prospect of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict drifting further than ever. Domestically, Qurei was riddled with corruption charges that tainted his reputation.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas confirmed Qurei’s death on Wednesday. The cause of death was not immediately made public, but Qurei had been ill for some time with a heart condition.
“Abu Alaa stood in the lead defending the causes of his home and people,” Abbas said in a statement carried by the official Wafa news agency, using Qurei’s nickname.
Israel’s former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who in 2013-2014 was also minister in charge of negotiations with the Palestinians, tweeted her condolences to Qurei’s family.
“I was sad to hear about the passing away of Ahmed Qurei,” she wrote. “Together we’ve tried to bring peace to our peoples in an understanding that it’s our responsibility to make a better future for our children.”
Born in 1937 in Abu Dis, suburb of East Jerusalem in the West Bank, Qurei joined the Fatah movement in 1968.
He rose quickly through the ranks under the leadership of its founder, the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and became a member of its decision-making body, the Central Committee, in 1989. He was also a member of the PLO Executive Committee.
Qurei headed the Palestinian delegation to Oslo, where intensive talks with Israel led to the peace accords in 1993, which created the Palestinian Authority and set up self-rule areas in the Palestinian territories. During ensuing rounds of negotiations with Israelis, he met all Israeli prime ministers who were in office before 2004, including Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Olmert, and US presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Peace talks have collapsed in the three decades since the accords. In a 2013 interview with the Associated Press marking two decades since the Oslo agreements, Qurei said that if he knew then what he knows now he wouldn’t have agreed to the accords.
“With such kinds of blocs of settlements? No. With the closure of Jerusalem? No. Not at all,” Qurei said at his office in Abu Dis.
After the establishment of the PA, Qurei won a seat in the first parliamentary elections in 1996 and chaired the Palestinian Legislative Council.
After Abbas resigned as the PA’s first prime minister in 2003, Arafat replaced him with Qurei. He held the post until 2006, when the terrorist Hamas group scored a landslide victory in the second Palestinian elections.
During his tenure as prime minister, Qurei was the subject of controversy after reports accused his family of having financial interest in a company that sold Egyptian cement to Israel, which the latter used to build the West Bank separation barrier.
Qurei was seen to have opposed the violence of the 2000-2005 Second Intifada that saw over 1,000 Israelis and 3,000 Palestinians killed. Though he did not publicly express his opinion, he worked with Israel’s then-foreign minister Shimon Peres on a failed attempt reach an agreement to end the violence.
In the past he was considered a possible successor to Abbas, who is 87.
In 2012, he expressed his belief that a single state for Israelis and Palestinians may be the only viable solution to the conflict, rather then the two-state solution that is the core principle backed by the Palestinian Authority, the Arab world and Western countries.